September 26, 2023

Bill Plante, CBS News’s Man at the White House, Dies at 84

Mr. Plante had a cleareyed view of what it meant to be a White House correspondent.

“It was always interesting — never fail — and in many ways the same every time,” he said in 2016 on, after he announced his retirement. “They’re different people, but they make the same mistakes; they get into the same kind of jams. And you say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen this before.’”

His exasperation with presidents who did not answer pertinent questions — or who avoided questions entirely — sometime led him to shout his questions. When Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s senior political adviser, stepped down in 2007, more than nine months after Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush announced the departure jointly but did not take questions from the media.

“If he’s so smart,” Mr. Plante yelled, “why did you lose Congress?” Mr. Bush didn’t respond.

Shouting questions was a necessary part of the press corps’s job, even if that behavior appeared rude, Mr. Plante told the streaming service CBSN; if reporters did not, he said, “we’d be walking away from our First Amendment role — and then we really would be the shills we’re so often accused of being.”

One of Mr. Plante’s most disquieting moments as a White House correspondent occurred in late October 1983, when he learned that the United States was about to invade the Caribbean island of Grenada. Before going on the air with his exclusive, he asked Larry Speakes, President Reagan’s acting press secretary at the time, to confirm his information.

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